``Quite time-consuming,'' was Coburn and John McCain's laconic description, in a letter to colleagues, of their threat to bring the Senate to a virtual standstill with challenges to earmarks. In 1999, while in the House, Coburn offered 115 anti-pork amendments to an agriculture bill -- effectively, a filibuster in a chamber that does not allow filibusters. Collaborating with Coburn makes McCain, the Senate's dropout from anger management school, look saccharine.
When Coburn disparaged an earmark for Seattle -- $500,000 for a sculpture garden -- Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was scandalized: ``We are not going to watch the senator pick out one project and make it into a whipping boy.'' She invoked the code of comity: ``I hope we do not go down the road deciding we know better than home state senators about the merits of the projects they bring to us.'' And she warned of Armageddon: ``I tell my colleagues, if we start cutting funding for individual projects, your project may be next.'' But Coburn, who does not do earmarks, thinks Armageddon sounds like fun.
He came to Congress with the 73 House Republican freshmen of 1994. A fervent believer in term limits, he said he would leave after three terms, and did. He says he will serve at mos one more Senate term. Of the 535 House and Senate seats, he says, ``There's 200,000 -- 300,000 -- people can do these jobs.'' How many? ``Millions,'' he revises.
``I'm not liked very well,'' he says serenely, ``but I'm like the gopher that's going to keep on digging until someone spears me or traps me. I'm going to keep on digging the tunnel under spending.'' Because, he says, large deficits reverse the American tradition of making sacrifices for the benefit of rising generations: ``I'm an American long before I'm a Republican, and I'm a granddad before I'm either one of them.''
``If I don't get re-elected? Great. The Republic will live on.'' Meanwhile, his mission is the soul of simplicity: ``stopping bad things.'' For five more years -- 11 at the most -- Coburn will be the Senate's stoplight.